Who doesn’t love infinity pools, especially ones atop high-elevation mountains with stunning views of a massive valley below?
And what if it’s part of a natural spring cascading over the cliffside, resulting in giant, brightly-colored, petrified waterfalls?
If this sounds amazing, Hierve el Agua is the place to be! Head up for a nice soak in an incredible alien landscape surrounded by stunning views. Only 1.5 hours away from Oaxaca City, it’s also easily accessible and can be squeezed into a short vacation full of adventure.
Looking for more things to do in Oaxaca? Check out all Oaxaca posts and these:
- The Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca
- Where and What to Eat and Drink in Oaxaca
- Exploring the Monte Alban Ruins
- The Best Oaxaca City Markets to Visit
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How to Get to Hierve el Agua
There are plenty of ways to get to Hierve el Agua, but we decided to stay overnight in the town of Mitla and head up from there. Mitla is a magical place (designated as one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos) in its own right, full of historical ruins and deep connections to Dia de Muertos. It’s also closer to Hierve el Agua than Oaxaca City (45 minutes versus 1.5 hours).
Hierve El Agua Tours
The most common, easiest and fastest way to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca is on a group tour.
This highly-rated day tour from Oaxaca to Hierve el Agua includes a guided hike at Hierve El Agua, a visit to the Zapotec weaver’s town, Teotitlán del Valle, and mezcal tasting in Santiago de Matatlan.
Taking Local Transportation to Hierve El Agua, Oaxaca
The trucks are the cheapest option because they take a different route to Hierve el Agua and avoid tolls along the road that most other options take. The tolls are two fold: (1) about 50 pesos for the toll road itself and (2) a “road maintenance toll” from the locals of San Lorenzo Albarradas which can be 25-75 pesos per person (an attempt to recoup a share of profits from the tourism to Hierve el Agua).
After waking up and visiting the local market for a delicious flor de calabaza (squash blossom) quesadilla and fresh orange juice, we made our way down to the main transportation meeting point in Mitla: La Cuchilla. Here, you can find private taxis, colectivos (shared taxis), and trucks going to many of the nearby towns and tourist attractions, including Hierve el Agua.
Since we’re generally sticking to the cheapest options, we chose the 50 peso truck. The worst part about doing so is that you have to wait until the minimum amount of riders arrive to fill up the truck, about 8-10 people.
After waiting 45 minutes, another 5 people showed up to join our group. At that point, the driver offered to leave without waiting any longer if we all paid another 20 pesos each. Kristina and I hesitated because we had already waited a long time, but after another 5 minutes with no one in sight, we went for it.
We climbed into the truck bed with benches built on either side and a canopy on top. The rest of the passengers climbed into the two rows of seating inside the truck’s cab. Since it was slightly rainy the day we left, we were thankful for the canopy, but we also had the most amazing view from the back.
We felt like our adventure had officially begun once we were driving over the bumpy dirt road and everything was going great, until we saw it: a giant spider dangling from the roof of the canopy, about 10 inches away from Kristina’s head! She hadn’t seen it and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Is that thing real?” because my mind couldn’t imagine that thing actually existed. It was mean looking. The appearance of a skull on its abdomen and plenty of brightly-colored spots all over. Looked like it could do some serious damage – and at the same time, it fit in very well with all of the Dia de Muertos celebrations going on.
Besides keeping our eye on the giant spider swinging dangerously closer to our heads with every bump, we were checking out the incredible views on the whole drive up. The road is a windy mountain road, rarely paved, and often quite steep. The mountains around are covered in tons of dense vegetation that can handle the semi-arid landscape.
Once we arrived, we joked with the driver that we actually did have more passengers so we shouldn’t have to pay the 20 extra pesos. He didn’t go for it. But he, and all of the other passengers, were shocked to see what the two people in the truck bed were riding with. After we got home and looked it up, we found out that it ended up being a harmless garden spider. Really, Oaxaca?!
Exploring Hierve el Agua
After paying the driver (70 pesos each, including the additional fee) and paying the entrance fee to Hierve el Agua (25 pesos each), there was a row of stands selling food, drinks, and clothing. We continued down the path to the main Hierve el Agua area. And it took our breath away.
Right as you enter the main area of the site, you are situated at one of the two cascades: cascada chica (small cascade). Cascada grande is located just a short walk away. At cascada chica there are changing rooms (free) and bathrooms ($3 pesos).
But more importantly, there are two wonderful swimming pools, four natural springs, and a stunning view of the valley below, surrounded by mountains in nearly every direction. There are even fields of agave at the base of the valley.
So we hopped into our bathing suits, took a sneaky sip of mezcal in the changing rooms (no food/drink allowed onsite), and climbed into the chilly water of the cliffside pool. Even though Hierve el Agua literally translates to “boiled water”, these are not hot springs. They fluctuate between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit (22-26 C). On a hot, sunny day, they’re the perfect way to cool off.
The swimming pools were reinforced through artificial construction, but we had no idea that was the case until after doing research. They did a great job at blending the pools in with the natural environment. Plus, there is a perfect bench running all along the infinity edge of the pool. Hard to imagine a better place to chill out for a bit.
Thankfully, the water is more calcium-rich than sulfur, so the egg-like smell is not strong at all, but there is a slightly yellow-green tint to the cloudy water. Many believe that soaking in the mineral-rich water provides healing powers.
After soaking there for a bit, we made the short hike (about 75 feet) back up to the smaller pool. This one is one of the most-often photographed areas here thanks to a mesmerizing dead tree trunk located near the pool’s edge. If you want any photos without a few tourists in it, get to Hierve el Agua nice and early at opening time (8 am).
The second cascade, cascada grande, is located a 10-minute hike away. The best part about going down there is checking out the view of the cascada chica. You can see each one from the other, but cascada grande is lower and therefore gives you a great view of the petrified falls.
Tips for Visiting Hierve el Agua
How to get to Hierve el Agua: It is about 1.5 hours away by car from Oaxaca City. You can depart by grabbing a taxi or colectivo from the northeast side of the main baseball stadium, Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos. This is a great place to get public transportation to most spots east of Oaxaca City (Mitla, Tlacolula, Matalan, and even parts of the Sierra Norte).
Many tours from Oaxaca City combine Hierve el Agua, Mitla (ruins), and Matatlan (World capital of Mezcal) in one day. But the stops at each are so short that you don’t get a chance to see the best of each place. For example, in Mitla we saw numerous groups fail to visit an underground tomb, which was the highlight of our visit. At Hierve el Agua, your swim or hike will be quite short and you won’t get a chance to see what the place looks like without 20-30 other people around. We stuck around for about 3 hours and saw a couple different groups of tours come and go. The time between was serene.
We recommend heading to Mitla the day before to enjoy Hierve el Agua at your own pace. La Cuchilla (transportation spot in Mitla) can get you to Hierve el Agua. A taxi from Mitla to Hierve el Agua costs around 50 pesos per person (with at least 5 people), and the additional tolls could be up to 75 per person. The truck should be around 50 pesos per person, and avoids the tolls. La Cuchilla also has transportation back to Oaxaca City or Tlacolula. To get to Matalan for mezcal farms/production, go to Tlacolula first.
What to do when at Hierve el Agua: Swimming is the best way to enjoy the waters. Don’t be afraid of the murkiness! It’s worth it to hang out on the infinity pool’s edge. Then take the short hike down to the lower cascade. Soak in magnificent views from all around, and try to get a picture alone with the tree. Follow it up with a drink and snack from one of the vendors closer to the parking lot. I would set aside 1.5 to 3 hours to explore.
What to take to Hierve el Agua: Swimsuit & towel if you’re going to hop in. Sun protection is important because there is little shade, but you can’t swim after applying sunscreen. Bring sunglasses, a hat, and perhaps a UPF shirt. Shoes capable of a quick hike on fairly steep terrain are needed to check out the lower cascade area. Bring some water and enough cash to cover transportation, entrance fee, tolls (if not using the truck), and food/drink.
Where to stay: There are rudimentary cabins for rent onsite, which are around 300 pesos per night. You can get more information on those by asking the person at the entrance booth to Hierve. As noted above, going to Mitla for the night prior is a great idea (Hotel Zapoteca is a budget option at 250 pesos per night). But if you’re tight on time, heading out for a day trip from Oaxaca City isn’t a problem either.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca
These natural springs and pools are a must visit for anyone coming to Oaxaca City. The drive up is incredible; you won’t forget the alien landscape of the springs and waters, plus amazing Instagram-famous views all around. And if you’re as “lucky” as us, you might even meet a spider-bro in the back of the truck on the way up! So if you needed one more reason to visit Oaxaca, there you have it.
What do you think of Hierve el Agua? Does the thought of swimming in mineral-rich murky water creep you out or do you look forward to the healing powers? Leave us a comment below!
Want to read about a great hiking, biking, and camping spot close to Oaxaca de Juarez? Check out our post on Santa Catarina Ixtepeji Oaxaca.